One good place to catch some sun when the day heats up in mid-January—Pike Island.
We headed north down the trail from the parking lot at Fort Snelling State Park at eleven, following the bluff under the historic fort for a hundred yards before veering toward the Mississippi. A red-tailed hawk was moving through the woods ahead of us. After pausing for a minute on a grassy, sunny hilltop, we walked down through an inch of packed snow to the frozen pebbles on the beach.
The hum of traffic crossing the Mendota Bridge was incessant—so much so that we hardly heard it except when an arriving 767 added to the roar. No, it was peaceful on the river. We wandered desultorily, examining chunks of sandstone as if they contained the secrets of Devonian life and scouring the wooded bank above us from time to time in case a forest creature might show its head.
The river, perhaps fifty yards across, is half-frozen; out near the middle you can see it gurgling past. There are very few tracks out there. No human has ventured out recently. We watched an eagle soar across, and at one point along the way I noticed a glass Christmas tree ornament sitting on the ice near shore. I have no idea how that got there.
We eventually returned to the woods and followed a sunny path east toward the Mississippi’s confluence with the Minnesota River. No humans had come this way since the recent dusting of snow but there were other tracks all over the place—squirrel, deer, crow, coyote, and those tiny mousy tracks, not much bigger than grains of rice, that could be any number of little rodent species.
At one point we came upon some very fresh coyote scat. As we approached the confluence we noticed a flock of flickers that had decided to stay the winter. When a pileated woodpecker landed in the tree nearby it brought our woodpecker species count up to five.
It was sunnier of the south side of the island. Condos of every vintage hugged the edge of the bluffs across the river. One part of the trail was dusted with wind-blown feathers though neither of us spotted a kill-site anywhere nearby. White-breasted nuthatches were beeping, and a kingfisher was chattering in a distant slough, well out of sight.
Then we came upon the biggest crow prints I’d ever seen. Turns out they belonged to a couple of turkeys we spotted foraging in the woods.
We’d built up an appetite during our four-mile perambulation—though we weren’t walking very fast.
On the way home we stopped at the recently-opened Mill Valley Kitchen in St. Louis Park. The food was pretty good…but I felt like I was sitting in my aunt’s suburban condo.
I kept looking over at a painting of a Northern California coastal landscape that was hanging on the wall—all smooth orange slopes with clumps of miniature oak trees—and hatching plans to return once again to the Pacific.